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Buddha signals court fee hike rethink

Nov. 29: The government today appeared to have softened its stand on the court fee-hike issue.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told a delegation of lawyers “in principle”, he agreed that there were “anomalies” in the new fee structure announced by the government.

Lawyers throughout the state have been on strike since November 13, demanding that the hike be held in abeyance till the issue was discussed further and the Ordinance issued to this effect be rolled back.

As a show of the government’s “sincerity” on a rethink on the hike, Bhattacharjee called up the chairman of the state Bar Council, Amiya Chatterjee, this evening in the middle of the latter’s news conference and said the government was ready to include a provision of refunding the excess court fee — being collected now after the promulgation of an Ordinance — in a Bill during the winter session of the Assembly. This is, of course, subject to a revision of the hike in the Assembly when the Ordinance comes up for discussion.

The agitating lawyers, however, refused to call off their strike, saying the government’s proposal would be put up before the representatives of the various bar associations on November 30 and the executive committee members of the Bar Council on December 2.

“There is no question of withdrawing the agitation before December 3,” said Chatterjee.

However, the chief minister said he was hopeful about a solution. “We hope that the problem will be solved soon,” he said before leaving office this evening.

Chatterjee said the meeting with the chief minister was “very cordial”.

“He assured us at the meeting that he would make the court fees in Bengal the lowest in the country. In effect, this, along with his assurance about the provision on refund of excess fees, means the government is going to decrease the court fees,” said Chatterjee.

Bhattacharjee told the Bar Council members that the government was compelled to increase the fees in a hurry because of the acute financial crunch the government was facing. “I seek your co-operation in this regard. Give me your suggestions on areas where the hike has been abnormally steep,” Bhattacharjee said.

The lawyers present, however, insisted that the government immediately pass an order keeping the Ordinance in abeyance till the relevant Bill is placed before the Assembly.

The chief minister told the lawyers he would get back to them after discussing the matter with law minister Nisith Ashikary, advocate-general Balai Ray and veteran barrister and CPM parliamentarian Somnath Chatterjee.

A section of the Bar Council members today said the ceasework should be called off.

“A clearer picture will emerge tomorrow,” said Saradindu Biswas, a former chairman of the council.

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